Disney, Kodak bow restored ‘Snow’

Disney and Kodak took the wraps off a digital renovation of the studio’s “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” revealing details on their effort to enhance and preserve a treasure trove of animated classics.

With 120,000 frames restored of the 1938 film — Disney’s first full-length animated feature — it is the largest digital processing project ever attempted.

The work was showcased at Eastman Kodak’s Cinesite in Burbank on Friday.

Last February, Disney had contracted with Kodak to scan the film into the computer language of ones and zeros and, with proprietary software, clean up each frame, then record the finished work back to film.

The project, dubbed “Cauldron,” was completed June 18. The cost of the restoration was not disclosed.

“We have the chance to see our film heritage protected,” said Harrison Ellenshaw, head of Disney’s Buena Vista Special Effects division. “No longer will someone view this and have the experience lessened by dirt, dust, misregistration, scratches or gouges.”

The process was so successful, he said, that it proves the benefits of high-resolution digital archiving. Disney tends to reissue its 30 or so animated classics every seven years, said Ellenshaw, noting they were likely candidates for future digitization.

The economics for the process have to improve, however, for it to be popular.

“The costs will have to drop 25% and the time cut 25% for this to be cost-effective,” said Bruno George, Cinesite’s creative director. “But we’ve learned a lot and can now drop the production cost by one-third.”

Using Kodak’s Cineon process for capturing film in digital form, the film was scanned onto digital tape, capturing a single frame every 10 seconds.

Once in digital form, sections of the film were cleaned up by artists using Sun workstations.

The so-called “Dust-busting” software identified specks of dirt against the background by comparing the color density of each pixel. On a computer screen, every image is made up of pixels, with a single frame of film containing 9.7 million pixels.

Until it was refined, at first, the software accidentally removed eyeballs from some of the birds in “Snow White.”

Despite the thoroughness of the “dust-busting,” it only caught 70% of the dirt and grime. The balance was handled by artists using electronic paint systems that cloned surrounding color.